A Facebook campaign launched by four women devotees two days ago opposing entry of women of reproductive age to the Sabarimala temple saying they can wait till they turn 50, has triggered a fresh bout in social media with opponents questioning why they have to wait.
It is a battle between ‘can wait’ and ‘why wait’ camps. Devotees have posted their photographs with a placard displaying ‘ready to wait’ with a hashtag and it soon turned viral with many women extending their support to the campaign. Not to be left behind, those opposing the status quo at the temple are hitting back saying they don’t know the “value of freedom and equality.”
The social media campaign was launched by four woman - Padma Pillai, Anjali George, Suja Pavithran and Shilpa Nair - saying they were hurt by “a smear campaign” unleashed by a section of atheists and non-believers against the temple.
“We are all for women. But we are hurt by a concerted campaign triggered by a section of non-believers to discredit the temple and deity. We don’t feel women will attain immortality by breaking an age-old custom,” said Suja Pavithran adding their campaign was spontaneous and not backed by any group. “Ready to wait” means women are not in hurry and they are ready to wait till they attain 50 years of age to enter the temple.
The Sabraimala temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. Women of reproductive age are barred on grounds that the idol concept is ‘naishtika brahmacharya’ (eternal celibate). The temple has come under limelight again after the Bombay High Court lifting restrictions on women in Haji Ali Dargah.
Supporters of the campaign say there was no ban on women but only some restrictions on certain age group and it was wrong to interpret it as gender issue. “My bhakti is not selfish. I am ready to wait for darshan,” said a post. “It will show pseudo feminists what true women empowerment is,” said another.
Those on the other side of the spectrum say they can wait but why they stop others from entering the temple. “Many centuries women have been conditioned by various traditions and taboos to believe they are less than men. A biological difference cannot be the yardstick to measure one’s devotion,” said Congress leader Bindu Krishna criticizing the campaign.
Pilgrimage to Sabarimala in the Western Ghats ranges in Pathanamthitta district, is unique in many ways. A devotee has to observe 41 days’ fast abstaining from all worldly pleasures followed by a rigorous trek through forests. Interestingly Lord Ayyappa’s favorite disciple is a Muslim saint ‘Vavar Swami’ and devotees will have to worship first at his mosque before proceeding to the hilltop.
Women of productive age are allowed only till Pambha, the base river camp before an 5-km arduous trek to the hill shrine begins. Women cops are employed in Pambha in large numbers to screen devotees. If they become suspicious, women devotees will have to furnish proof to verify their age. Despite strict surveillance at times women sneak into the temple.